A bit of neglect - is it ever a good thing when it comes to modern parenting? Photo: Stocksy
I know I am neither the first nor the last to admit it but I would like to confess that I find parenting extremely hard. There is no question about whether or not I love my son – I love him so much that it can make my heart ache but parenting? Well I really have no idea what I'm doing, whether I am getting it horribly wrong, spot on or if I am just really crap at it.
To give you an example that I expect many parents can relate to, last week on yet another hot day of the endless school holidays we decided to hit the beach. With my bag packed with snacks, changes of clothes, swimmers, hat, sunscreen etc. I dared tell my four year old it was time to leave home. He moped, he whined, he growled, he threw himself on the sofa in indignation and he finished off his little rebellion with 'I HATE the beach & I want a new mummy.' Ten minutes later we are all having a great time at the beach – what a surprise.
At the time of the tantrum however, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Some days it's a bit of both. The truth of it is that as much as I love my child, the art of parenting can be a nightmarish combination of guilt, hard slog and repetitive head-banging boredom.
In the 21st century you don't just become a mother – you have to actively 'parent' and this is actually now considered a job, a life choice, which for the most part falls to the female of the species to organise.
You have a baby, you are physically exhausted, emotionally wrecked and your boobs feel like they might fall off and then you learn about these tribes that you have to pledge allegiance to. Are you an attachment parent, a free-range parent, a helicopter parent, an earth mother a yummy mummy, a slummy mummy or none of the above.
I had enough trouble coming to terms with the being a mother part. I was never really sure I wanted kids until I met my husband and had a biological urge to breed with this gorgeous man. The discovery that I was inadvertently part of a complex parenting movement and the associated guilt and judgement over whether I was doing too little, too much or not looking the part was mystifying.
You'd think by the time my little man got to four, I'd be all over it but the parenting maze of competing ideologies continues. Take for example yesterday - my husband cheerily leaves for work, I start with a positive mindset: Today I will be Creative Parent. I set up the playdough outside on a table and we make snakes and snails for nine minutes. Brilliant. Inspired. I am the world's best mummy. I am so putting this on Instagram. Then I realise it is only 7.47am.
As a generation of over sharers – we only have ourselves to blame. I am in part fascinated and in part horrified by the ageless social media mommy-bloggers in their One Teaspoon micro shorts & perma-tans that manage to make parenting look so fun and beautiful. The endless postings of picnics at sunset complete with teepees, handcrafted bunting and tousled haired kids sharing a chia seed muffin. Bewildering.
Back in the day before #kidsofinstgram and playdough and those hellish soft play centres, parents would high five each other if they got little Johnnie to his fifth birthday without being horrifically maimed by the trolley bus or killed off by consumption. Now we not only have to ensure our children survive, but to thrive AND look like supermodels playing with their eco-friendly BPA free toys in pastel hued bedrooms.
Parents, and most often mothers are expected to be nutritionists, teachers, personal trainers, nurses, artists, interior stylists and musicians and if we can't do it ourselves then obviously we must pay for someone else to take our small child and make them into Mozart, Kerr, Federer or Picasso. We might have a global village to 'like' our photos and provide countless hints and tips on forums but we don't have an actual village anymore to share inter-generational advice and provide real help.
It is no wonder my child is yelling at me and that I feel so overwhelmed sometimes. We have collectively lost sight of what is really important and our perspective has been messed up by the availability of too much child rearing information.
It was only recently that I started to think that a bit of neglect was not necessarily a bad thing. I am not talking about starvation or cruelty, stand down earth mothers, I am talking about the idea that we as parents do not need to be our child's personal entertainment committee or agent all of the time. For some parents this is all part of the fun, for others like me, just another major area to feel guilty about – and I am done with guilt.
It goes without saying that I love my boy and want him to learn and grow but I am also not four years old and I don't want to build a lego tower for longer than four minutes or indeed take a photo of it. I'd really rather read a book or have a cuppa with a friend.
We only have the one child so we encourage lots of time spent with kids his own age as well as playtime by himself that does not involve a constant stream of orchestrated 'activities'. His imagination is fantastic and I love listening to him in his bedroom making up stories about chocolate factories and rocket ships. We try to have proper family time – no iPhone's allowed and we have also instigated Wednesday night date night. He sees my husband and I getting ready to go out together, he doesn't love it but he's getting used to it and we have a lovely young girl that comes while we hit the town alone for two whole hours. I think it is good for him and good for us as a couple.
The ongoing challenge for us all as parents – whatever tribe we identify with - is not to feel overwhelming guilt at not achieving Pinterest perfection or constantly judging others and their decisions, Parenting is hard, I don't care who you ask – we all have our days - and although I want to enjoy my son and be there for him I also plan to fit in time to be a regular non-parenting adult human too.
There are still two days left of the school holidays and I am counting the minutes till I can drop him off in the capable hands of fully refreshed preschool teachers and make a run for the hills, or at least the nearest peaceful café. Until then we'll muddle on by as best we can with a healthy mix of boredom, tantrums, giggles and love – but absolutely no guilt or chia seeded muffins.